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Surviving In The Age Of Commoditised Excellence

In this era of commoditisation, where change is the only constant, leaders will have to adopt such fresh strategies that nurture new skills and enable them to future-proof their organisations.

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A few months back, my dad, who is in his 80s and an avid soccer fan, wanted to know about Chelsea and Manchester City match fixtures. He asked me to help him. I was doing some tactical work and thought I would Google it later. The next moment, I saw him go nonchalantly to Alexa and get a prompt reply. It made me drop whatever I was doing and gape at him as he walked away with a smile on his face.

It made me think, here was someone who couldn’t get onto the Internet and the smartphone bandwagon, but suddenly he could access information as fast as any millennial. The access to the Internet, which was esoteric and considered a “value” in the 90s and the early 2000s, suddenly became possible for my 80-year-old dad. It is what I call “commoditising excellence” – what is of value today would get outdated tomorrow.

Is There a Danger?

The generation that entered work in the 1960s or 70s saw only one change in their work life – they moved from paper to mainframes. They had enough time to go through this “disruption”. The people who started working in the 1980s saw the PC/workstation era and in the mid-90s, they were exposed to the Internet, the browser-based world, which was then replaced by the cloud-based economy in mid-2005. They will be probably ending their careers in the smartphone era, which became popular in the Indian market from 2010. This generation saw some more evolution than the previous generations. As the world becomes increasingly data-driven and the technology churns much faster, the future generation will face the need for higher frequency of evolution to stay relevant in the workplace. In this context, Lewis Carroll’s “Red Queen” hypothesis in the novel ‘Through the Looking-Glass’, cannot be truer. As the hypothesis suggests, we must continually adapt and evolve if only to survive and not get extinct. Our skills are getting cannibalised rapidly, and if we are not attuned to change, we would soon run the risk of being redundant.

Discovering the Upside of Change

Not only are individual skills getting commoditised but also the organisations’ skill. It is the prerogative of leaders to be able to future-proof their organisations. Leaders should be aware of what’s happening in their business and be well networked with the ecosystem to be able to extrapolate the future by connecting the dots.

It is also imperative for leaders to leverage skewed excellence. They should develop abilities to attract, retain and get the best out of their Sheldons (Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory series) who can think fast and deep in certain areas of expertise and have the ability to crack complexities faster than others. Such people dive deep into newer and complex technologies to derive quick benefits out of it. The onus is on the leaders to create an ecosystem around the Sheldons without the danger of normalising them.

In the absence of Sheldons in the organisation, leaders should start developing the ability to work with free agents in the system. Free agents are experts in specific fields, possess a Sheldonesque quality and are known to be quick and nimble. Once the free agents have been identified, they can enter the hyperspace of the company and spread their ideas into the systems. It will enable organisations to leverage their competitive advantage. Eventually, the process will also elevate other employees’ skills organically, thus making the advantage more sustainable. After the skills have been imbibed in the organisation, the free agents can be released.

Developing either one or both of these capabilities is a skill that companies must create to avoid becoming obsolete. It alludes to a ‘T’ Structure. It will help certain parts of the organisation (vertical part of the ‘T’) to move with agility and gain transient advantage. As time progresses, translate the learnings to the rest of the organisation, organically (growing the base of the ‘T’). The role of the leader would be that of a linchpin during the entire process.

In this era of commoditisation, where change is the only constant, leaders will have to adopt such fresh strategies that nurture new skills and enable them to future-proof their organisations. With the advances in data science, artificial intelligence and machine learning, some experts are also evangelising the possibility of the human species itself changing. Some are even implying a state of singularity in 30-50 years. Whether it happens or not, the workplace will definitely go through a fast and continuous evolution in the future. In such a scenario, mere survival itself can be considered a victory.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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K.S. Prashant

The author is Managing Director, IDeaS Revenue Solutions (a SAS company)

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